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Shame on the warm heart

The fact that we are one of the poorest countries in the world notwithstanding, Malawi has so much to be proud of. We have one of the freshest lakes in Africa, with fish that can only be found here. We are the home of the Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba, and recently we have demonstrated to the world, through the case of the presidential elections, that democracy is alive and well in Malawi.

But we hit a low point two weeks ago. Something happened that we should all be ashamed of. Something so disgraceful that if allowed to repeat, we should never again refer to our country as the Warm Heart of Africa.

I am talking about the xenophobic attacks on refugees from Burundi and Rwanda that occurred in Lilongwe’s Biwi Township on February 3 and 4. Burundian and Rwandese owned shops were looted and destroyed and the owners assaulted. Reports indicate the same happened in Kasungu as well.

Let us flashback to 2015 when xenophobia attacks happened in South Africa. So many of our Malawian brothers and sisters were attacked and much of their property was destroyed. Some even died. A lot of them are still struggling to date to recover from the loss of livelihoods and the trauma they experienced.

Condemnation of the attacks from Malawians came fast and furious and there was even a protest march led by different civil society organisations to the South African High Commission in Lilongwe to deliver a petition to show anger and demand a stop.

Four years later, last year, xenophobia in South Africa reared its ugly head again, and again some Malawians, about 113 of them were victims. The rebuke was the same with a matching message that foreigners should not be treated like dogs.

It is therefore quite disappointing that while we have been calling out people of South Africa for attacking our kin and asking them to leave, we are doing the very same things to brothers and sisters from Burundi and Rwanda here in Malawi.

What is particularly shocking about this regrettable incident in Lilongwe is that the foreigners were attacked for having been accused of crimes they did not even commit. The culprits of the heinous crimes that happened in Biwi were actually Malawians. No foreigner was involved.

Refugees from Burundi and Rwanda in Lilongwe are not new. We have lived with them in our neighbourhoods for a long time. Most of them own small scale businesses and have employed many Malawians. Many of them are law-abiding and they stay out of trouble.

It is, thus not right that some lazy and jealousy Malawians with criminal tendencies should fabricate lies to find an excuse to steal from these foreigners who are trying hard to earn an honest living. I commend the police for arresting several suspects for this incident. They need to face the law and if found guilty must be punished.

In this age when smartphones are in the hands of everyone, even those who are not necessarily smart themselves, videos of incidences are shared widely instantly and it is easy for lies and unverified information to go unchecked. We all have a responsibility to verify what we receive on WhatsApp before hitting the forward option.

I believe if people had bothered to verify the information on social media that accused Burundians and Rwandese of the crimes in Biwi, these brothers and sisters would not have been attacked. Shame on the person who took that misleading video. I hope they are part of the arrested suspects. And if you received the video and shared it, shame on you too.

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